Basin Mountain

3-Aug-02

By: Ron Campbell


Ah, decadence.

Smoked salmon washed down with a rich merlot on a mosquito-free (though breezy) evening in the High Sierra. Cream of asparagus soup. Chicken teriyaki. Jealous yet?

The first annual gourmet peak-bag left the Horton Lakes trailhead a half-hour past the announced starting time of 8 a.m. Saturday , getting things off to a suitably relaxed start. We had four participants on the joint WTCSPS trip and, alas, three no-shows condemned to wonder what they missed.

We arrived at Horton Lake just in time for a mid-day nap and lunch. At 6 p.m. the festivities began. Frank Van der Wall offered edamame (lightly salted fresh soybeans).

George Rieck countered with Yukon River coldsmoked salmon, spiced with jalapeno and served in croutades (pastry cups about the size of a quarter, a half-inch deep). The salmon croutades were the clear taste sensation of a trip with many sensations.

Georgette meanwhile spread out a tasteful red-and-white checked tablecloth (held down by rocks in the now-stiff breeze off the lake). She set on it a plate of Kalamata olives with French feta cheese and champagne crackers, later supplemented with marinated red peppers. Somewhere along the way - it got confusing - George pulled out a package of shrimp-flavored chips; they offered a light break from the almost overwhelming croutades.

My wife had recently returned from Spain bringing me two varieties of Knorr's dried soups that I have never seen in American stores. I spent several anxious hours (okay minutes - but they were anxious) deciding between Crema de Esparragos (just what you think it is) and Crema de Langosta (lobster). My campmates were delighted with the Crema de Esparragos.

It was time at last for the main courses. Frank made bowtie pasta - the first time I have seen a thick pasta cooked successfully at 10,000 feet - with a pesto and salmon sauce. Georgette served chicken teriyaki. We had so much food that I left my offering - crab quesadillas - unopened in the bear canister.

I brought three screw-together plastic wine goblets. Frank politely refused my offer of a fourth goblet in favor of his titanium cup. Frank brought a Blackstone Merlot while George offered a Turning Leaf merlot. I broke the merlot monopoly with a Fetzer Cabernet. We toasted each other, the great food and the marvelous mountains around us.

Even the most decadent peak-bag gets serious at a predictable point - when the climbing begins.

We left camp at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, crossing a bridge over the outlet stream, just before the stream drops into a canyon. We then worked our way along the southern shore to the first inlet stream, which we followed south to a pair of lakes. From the upper lake at 11.480 ft.. we climbed an obvious south- trending ridge just to east of the lake. The ridge eventually merges into a bowl well to the left of a semi-permanent snowfield. At about 12,000 ft., we turned left (nearly due east) toward the apparent high point. This is a false summit. We worked our way around its right (southeast) side, dropping perhaps 50 ft. to a notch separating the false and true summits. We then easily made our way up a series of ramps to the summit.

The top gave us superb views of Humphreys, Emerson, Table and Agassiz, The hanging valley just west of the summit of Tom was especially dramatic. Basin is plainly not a destination peak. Only a handful of parties had signed the register in June or July. This is too bad. The peak is cross-country all the way and scree or talus for much of the distance, making it a test of conditioning. (It certainly tested mine.) And the views are outstanding.

From the summit we dropped down the steep northeast slope of the mountain to about 11,800 ft., where we turned almost due west to intercept the upper lake. Once we reached the camp, one more surprise awaited us - a 12-lb. watermelon that Georgette had lugged up the trail. I believe it would have tasted great under any circumstance, but after a climb it was heavenly.

We got off the mountain late, thus missing an important, unwritten trip objective - a visit to Schatts in Bishop. But on Monday, Georgette and I each got something in the mail almost as good as a fresh sourdough loaf- Godiva chocolates. Two of our no-show participants sent us each a box, no doubt hoping to bribe us into silence about their identities. It's the best bribe I've gotten in years.


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